In one of the more indecorous moments of the 2011 legislative session, GOP Sen. Gretchen Hoffman tweeted from the floor that DFL Sen. Barb Goodwin had compared the mentally ill to "idiots and imbeciles."

Goodwin had been decrying cuts to services for the mentally ill in the Legislature's Health and Human Services budget Wednesday. She referenced the dark days when the afflicted were warehoused in institutions and labeled idiots and imbeciles.

When informed of the tweet on the 140-character messaging service Twitter late Wednesday night, Goodwin rose to her feet on the Senate floor to complain.

The kerfuffle has become a hot topic among the political Twitterati. For some, it highlights the risks of social media. For others, it represents the bitter battle in politics.

The message that caused the uproar was short, as Twitter posts always are.

"Sen Goodwin just called people with mental illness -- idiots and imbeciles -- while debating HHS bill," Hoffman, R-Vergas, sent out on Twitter.

But Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, didn't. An ardent supporter of services for mental illness, Goodwin had disparagingly noted on the Senate floor that the first psychiatric hospitals were called "institutions for idiots, imbeciles and the insane." She repeated the phrases later in the debate.

Of the tweet, a shaking Goodwin said on the floor: "This goes beyond the pale. This is an ethics violation in my opinion and I expect a public apology. ... She totally understood what I said."

"This is beyond politics. This is just plain mean-spirited," she said.

About four hours after Goodwin made her public complaint, Hoffman acknowledged -- but did not apologize for -- the upset.

"I look forward to sitting down with Sen. Goodwin to discuss my concerns regarding remarks she made on the Senate floor today during a lengthy debate on Health and Human Services finance bill," Hoffman said in a statement. "Until I have an opportunity to speak with Sen. Goodwin directly and share my experiences as a registered nurse, I have no further comment." By Thursday evening the two had yet to share.

Senate staffer Michael Brodkorb repeated the tweet, and Goodwin said she may also file a complaint against him.

Back in 2009, when Twitter was young, DFL Rep. Paul Gardner tweeted that GOP Rep. Tom Emmer appeared to be meaner to women than men and suggested GOP Rep. Mark Buesgens had a black eye. The Republicans filed an ethics complaint against Gardner. After an ethics hearing, Gardner issued a public apology.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb